South Africa will not arrest Vladimir Putin if and when he visits their country because Russia has warned that such an act would be a “declaration of war”, its president Cyril Ramaphosa has said.
The leader of the ruling African National Congress is being challenged in court by the South African opposition party, Democratic Alliance, who are trying to force Putin’s detainment should he attend the BRICS summit at the end of next month.
But in an affidavit, a written statement used in the trial, Mr Ramphosa said arresting Putin despite the ICC warrant would be “inconsistent with our constitution” since it would “risk engaging in a war with Russia”.
Under Mr Ramaphosa, the country is trying to position itself as one of global influence and has remained neutral regarding the conflict in Ukraine.
But despite co-leading a peace mission to both Russia and Ukraine last month, becoming only the second nation behind China to speak to both sides of the conflict in eastern Europe, critics have said the nation’s stance is becoming increasingly pro-Kremlin.
Vladimir Putin is due to visit Johannesburg, South Africa for the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) summit next month from August 22 to 24.
The moment the Russian autocrat touches down in South Africa, the incumbent government is obliged to arrest him as a signatory of the ICC.
In March, the ICC issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest for the unlawful deportation of thousands of Ukrainian children to Russia.
But South Africa, up until the current legal case, has refused to say if it would honor the warrant.
In a written statement to the court published on Tuesday (July 18), Mr Ramaphosa confirmed that he has no intention of heeding the ICC call.
“South Africa has obvious problems with executing a request to arrest and surrender President Putin,” he said in an affidavit.
“Russia has made it clear that arresting its sitting president would be a declaration of war. It would be inconsistent with our constitution to risk engaging in war with Russia.”
The president added that as one of several African nations holding talks with Russia and Ukraine “with a view of ending the war altogether”, any attempt to arrest Putin would be counter-productive.
The country has a history of refusing to honor their role as a signatory. In 2015, it allowed safe passage to Sudan’s then-president Omar al-Bashir, who was wanted for war crimes against his own people.
Al-Bashir’s brutal rule of Sudan paved the way for the fighting that is now taking place in the nation between the two forces that deposed him in 2019, and which has resulted in the death or displacement of hundreds of thousands of the country’s citizens.
The BRICS group of fast-growing economies due to meet next month is seen by some as an alternative to the G7 group of advanced economies.